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War exposes Russia’s weaknesses and vulnerabilities

University of Miami specialists in areas of Soviet politics, economics, and law examine the global implications of Russia’s ‘‘Three-Day Invasion and Takeover’’ of Ukraine that, as of today, grinds into its second year with no end in sight.
Ukrainian servicemen of the 3rd Separate Tank Iron Brigde take part in an exercise in the Kharkiv area, Ukraine, Thursday, Feb. 23, 2023, the day before the one year mark since the war began. War has been a catastrophe for Ukraine and a crisis for the globe and the world is a more unstable and fearful place since Russia invaded its neighbor on Feb. 24, 2022. (AP Photo/Vadim Ghirda)

Ukrainian soldiers take part in an exercise in the Kharkiv area of Ukraine on Feb. 23, the day before the one year mark when Russia invaded the country. Photo: The Associated Press


A year post the invasion, Marcia Beck, a political scientist in the University of Miami College of Arts and Sciences, likened Russia’s image on the world stage and that of President Vladimir Putin to the well-known Hans Christian Andersen folktale: “The Emperor’s New Clothes.”

“Russia under Putin has dressed itself up as, if not quite yet a world power, then a regional power,” said Beck, in detailing Putin’s campaign of aggression for more than a decade waged in the form of cyberattacks in the Baltics and Georgia, war in Georgia, the annexation of Crimea, and an infinite number of other provocative maneuvers.

Emboldened by the West’s inaction, buoyed by domestic support especially from the annexation, and following misguided information from his security officials, the autocratic leader and former longtime KGB officer on Feb. 24, 2022, ordered what he believed would be a three-day, one-sided war.

“And then the unthinkable happened: As in Andersen’s folktale, the little boy called out the emperor—and far from being dressed in regalia and finery, he was naked and vulnerable,” Beck said.

The success of Ukraine’s comedian-turned-president, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, to first rally the country and then the West in support of Ukraine’s quest to defend its sovereignty and its territory, transformed Putin’s offensive into a military quagmire.

“Russia’s military has been exposed for what it has become since the demise of the Soviet Union: corruption within its ranks, which involved a black market in selling military equipment parts; a top-heavy command structure that is ineffective on the battlefield; outdated military strategies drawing on experiences from WW II but unsuited to modern technological and logistical capabilities; lack of proper training and discipline among troops; and weak to non-existent military supply chains,” Beck said.   

According to Beck, a number of changes are underway in Europe in direct result of the Russian invasion, including Germany’s foreign, energy, and domestic defense policies; improved relations between European countries and their relationship with the United States; the application of Sweden and Finland to join NATO; and a formal U.S. declaration of Russia committing crimes against humanity.

Legal Ramifications

Pablo Rueda-Saiz, an associate professor in the School of Law, outlined the complex strategy Putin has promoted in an attempt to justify the invasion.

“Based on the principle of self-determination of peoples, Putin is not simply annexing regions of Ukraine to Russia, but instead promoting the independence of those regions,” explained Rueda-Saiz. “Only once they have gained independence and a national government is established and in control of the territory, the newly created government promotes referenda to annex themselves to Russia.”

The international law specialist noted that legally, once these regions are recognized as independent states by a critical mass of Russian allies, they acquire the right to self-determination. This means that no other country can force them to rejoin Ukraine, because that would entail a violation of their political independence, and thus, a breach of international law.

“Putin knows that even if his initial occupation is deemed illegal, that illegality ceases once those regions have their own governments and the Russian armed forces is replaced by those of the new states,” Rueda-Saiz said in outlining Putin’s complicated strategy. “Then, the decision by these new countries would constitute a legitimate exercise of self-determination, purging the original sin of the aggression and occupation.”

This month, the U.S. State Department released an independent report detailing a vast network of Russian-run sites and processes used to relocate thousands of Ukrainian children to areas under Russian control—a breach of the Fourth Geneva Convention.

Rueda-Saiz illustrated the international community’s attempts to bring legal action against Russia in consequence for the invasion, including initiatives involving the International Court of Justice and the International Criminal Court—which involves activity directed at Putin and other Russian officials.

The economic sanctions imposed by a number of nations are a form of legal action in the absence of an international judicial body with compulsory jurisdiction over every nation state, Rueda-Saiz observed.

Weathering the Sanctions

David Kelly, an economics professor in the Patti and Allan Herbert Business School, explained how Russia has exploited the world oil market, smuggling, and import substitution to keep its economy afloat—so far—against the tide of sanctions.

“World oil prices went way up with the pandemic, and Russia sells a lot of oil,” Kelly pointed out. He noted that while Russian oil production has remained essentially constant, the higher oil market price has fetched huge amounts of money.

With those riches, Russians have been able to pay more for goods brought in from China, Turkey, and to a lesser degree, India—the exceptions to countries that have suspended trade to and from Russia as a penalty for the invasion.

“With the smuggling, you may need to pay more or maybe you can’t always get the quantities that you want, but if have enough oil money you can figure it out. They’ve been able to offset that to a degree for now,” Kelly said.   

He likewise pointed to Russia’s turn to ramp up its domestic production of goods—import substitution—to counter the loss of imports. He cited the example of Japanese engines that Russia previously imported which are used to power forklifts.

“The Russian version breaks down, and it’s not as fuel efficient, but they’re making do with it, replacing imports with domestic production,” he said.

The economist also highlighted the role of the Russian central bank that stepped in and deftly maneuvered the economy when sanctions were first levied and the ruble, the Russian currency, began to crumble.

“They doubled interest rates from 10 to 20 percent, cutting off inflation,” he explained. “With fewer goods around because of sanctions, they didn’t want consumer demand blowing up. So, they raised rates to dampen demand.”

The bank has recently reversed those rates and brought that down to 8.7 percent, below the pre-invasion rate.

“That means they think they have some of these problems licked, that they will let demand pick up and they believe they can meet supply,” Kelly said. “Whether or not that’s true, we’ll see.”

The Battle Ahead

Despite the Ukrainians fierce resistance, Beck pointed to Russia’s military advantage in terms of personnel and weaponry.

“The Russians are throwing new recruits into the battle to act as cannon fodder to hold off any Ukrainian advances,” she noted. “In addition, the Russians are keeping up their missile attacks on civilian populations, including hospitals, schools, cultural centers, private residences, and energy stations in Kyiv and other locations using their own missile systems and Iranian-made drones—all in an attempt to demoralize the Ukrainian population.” 

In an historic visit on Monday, President Joe Biden met with Zelenskyy in Kyiv where he reiterated U.S. support and promised new military assistance.

New military equipment would undermine the Russians’ military advantages, according to Beck, including Leopard-2 tanks from Germany, M1-Abrams tanks from the U.S. and Challenger-2 tanks from England.

Beck outlined several potential turning points for the war in the weeks and months ahead. New state-of-the-art battle tanks and other weaponry from the West could turn the tide for Ukraine allowing its military to attack Russian forces from a greater distance, thus protecting their own troops.

But the biggest turning point in the war may begin inside Russia, she said.

“Once the tide turns, if it ever does, and the blame shifts directly to Putin on the part of a critical mass of the Russian population,” Beck said, “then the game is over for Putin and his domestic empire starts to crumble.”